The ascent up Sani Pass, one of the most famed birding routes in South Africa, provides easy access to most of the birds endemic to the Drakensberg Escarpment and highlands, plus spectacular mountain scenery.
Bo Beolens of Fatbirder put me onto Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours originally. What a favour he did me. Not only is Chris an excellent birder, but he goes out of his way to be really helpful. I and my partner settled on Namibia with Birding Ecotours as our next trip, and as we were in Jo`burg visiting friends a few days before the trip, I asked Chris if he could also arrange for me to see Flufftails in the gap available. The hub of Birding Ecotours couldn`t have been more delightful to deal with. Not only did he get very excited by this challenge, but took it upon himself to do our guiding. He found an equally enthusiastic birder, Kevin, to join the trip and off we set for the Dullstroom area, where there was a Striped Flufftail guide, all revved up and ready to go except it was miserable weather. Never mind, a quick re-calculation and we descended down to Nelspruit Botanic Garden and sunshine, and spent half a day revelling in Sth. African birds. Then we ascended and went lark and pipit hunting which Chris found by call. He also found us an Oribi which was stunning, we were so close. Chris and his guide worked extremely hard the next day, trying to call out a flufftail . We could hear them but the thick vegetation prevented any views of them. After doing a circuit of the whole area, Chris and the guide doing more, as they were going up and down the hill , we were losing heart. Luck returned as Chris planted us by a carefully placed mp3 playing flufftail, and a narrow trodden path into the bracken. We waited as the sound of another flufftail got closer. I could hear Kevin hyperventilating as he suddenly found himself looking at a full frontal view of a male Striped Flufftail. As I was at a slightly different angle, I couldn`t see this marvellous apparition, but found myself breathing hard in anticipation when, from behind the clump of grass I was straining to see through, a female suddenly leapt across the gap like a frog, so fast that all I got was a view of the back and tail! No wonder they are a difficult bird to get to grips with but I would recommend this sort of diversion to anyone. I wouldn`t have climbed the hill after the Cape Eagle Owl if it wasn`t for Chris`s infectious enthusiasm either, and we were sorry to see both of them go; they had been so easy to get on with, both entertaining and amusing We flew to Walvis Bay a few days later to meet Steve Braine, our leader for the Namibia trip, and the rest of the participants. We found that Steve was a born and bred Namibian and knew the country like the back of his hand. He knew exactly where everything was, and if he didn’t, he had a hot-line to somebody who did. Fortunately the rest of the group were a relaxed bunch and very talkative and entertaining, and soon Steve had everyone fixated on birds. Steve and his bird knowledge is fearsome. He worked tirelessly, always on the go arranging the next highlight, repeating things if he thought anybody had missed out. He knows all the mammals, all the reptiles, loves scorpions and even dabbles with Lepidoptera. We were all beginning to think he was some kind of magician a week into the trip. There are sights on this trip you will never forget. For me, even the sight of a line of larks, all squashed together along a 1 inch wide line of shade under a notice board was spectacular. The plumage of desert birds looking like ink etchings: I could go on. Steve is an extremely good leader and I for one am grateful for his excellent birding skills and tireless driving.